Often, it's personal circumstances that drive people to home learning. For Mark Reilly, he lived a hectic double life. By day, he was a police officer in his community. By night, a carer for his disabled daughter. When he started studying with Oxbridge, his life was intense, he hadn't any time and his primary goals were financial. But after studying our Level 3 Counselling Skills, he gained a whole new perspective that left us in awe.

My life has always been about overcoming challenges

Man sitting on the grass stretching his legs before playing a game of football
Mark was a professional footballer until me was 32. He'd had a blast, but when he retired, he was searching for more meaning and purpose in his life.

From a young age, I've been driven by ambition, heart and a determination to win, diving headfirst into everything. What mattered to me was living in the moment and doing what I wanted, when I wanted. So, at just 16 years old, I left school to become a professional footballer. As many young boys do, I dreamt of money, fame, and hitting the big time. As such, I wasn't thinking about any kind of long-term vision; football had all my attention.

My teen years weren't exactly academic ones, but football gave me something to focus on. As a result, I put all my eggs into one basket. It's a cliché, I know, but I was one of the lucky ones. As it turned out, I found success and made it as a professional in the industry.

As many young boys do, I dreamt of money, fame, and hitting the big time.

I had a successful career until I was aged 32. However, after retiring from football with minimal education, I craved purpose and needed discipline. So, naturally, I joined the police. Thankfully, the entry requirements weren't as steep back then. Still, I worked hard to prove that I had the bravery, resolve, and people skills to make an outstanding officer.

Life experience changes your perspective of the world

While I've enjoyed my police career, which is going on 17 years now, being an officer is mentally and physically taxing. The things you see and situations you deal with, including traumatic events, leave a lasting impression on you. As such, I can honestly say that some of the hardest days of my life has been working for the police.

Consequently, to ease my discomfort, I turned to the power of self-help and positive mindset books. For instance, I read 'The Power of Intention' by Wayne Dyer and 'Stop Thinking, Start Living' by Richard Carlson. The latter has become one of my favourite books and one I often recommend to other people.

Now 49, my experience working with victims of crime stirred my gradual interest in the human mind. Moreover, it left me wanting to develop my understanding of the mind, mental health and psychology. I thought, 'If I can just understand how the mind works, I could make a real difference to people's lives'.

My experience working with victims of crime stirred my gradual interest in the human mind

Thinking ahead, I knew that I could retire from the police when I turned 55. So, I was considering a future as a counsellor or life coach, something that could help people in a different way. However, I didn't have the training or the time to build a new career from scratch. And on top of my very demanding job, I have a disabled daughter whom I care for two days a week. I needed a solution.

After a quick Google search, I found Oxbridge

One thing I've never lost is my drive. Once I set my mind to something I see it out until the end, and my desire to work as a counsellor led me to scanning the web for help. I knew going to college just wouldn't work; my day-to-day life is just too busy. In other words, what I needed was a way to develop my skills in my own time.

After a little research, I discovered distance learning and Oxbridge. The college offered the perfect course to suit my vision and needs 'Counselling Skills' from home. Better yet, the course was fully accredited by a nationally recognised awarding body. Suddenly, I felt nervous. Having been out of education for years, I couldn't shake this feeling that the course would be too much to handle. I thought, 'Can I really do this?'

Oxbridge spoke to me respectfully and didn't treat me like a clueless old-timer!

Plucking up the courage, I took the plunge and made the call. Five minutes on the phone and my initial worries dissolved. Dan, the course advisor at Oxbridge, was refreshingly honest with me. There was no nonsense or crafty sales tactics. On the contrary, Dan explained everything in simple, layman's terms. He clearly explained what level I should start at without talking to me as if I were a clueless old-timer. Even better, I learned of Oxbridge's support network and how I could study around my commitments. I enrolled, excited to get started right away.

Studying with Oxbridge on their Counselling Skills Diploma

A few years ago, I raised £40,000 in honour of my daughter for the REP Syndrome Charity by completing an Ironman Triathlon. Before signing up to the challenge, I couldn't swim and hadn't ridden a bike since I was a kid. I learnt the value of having a determined mindset during my rigorous training for that experience, but I never thought I'd apply it to learning. The truth is, you can do anything if you set your mind to it.

Once I enrolled, I was blown away by how smooth the whole process actually was. I loved that I could plan my study timetable around my daughter and my active day job. As a result, I was able to keep up a consistent study flow. And the encouragement I received from Lee, my tutor, made sure that I was always on the right track.

I was blown away by how smooth Oxbridge's enrolment process was.

As an officer, I'm used to structure and following the commands of my superiors. But with distance learning, everything was alien to me. However, my tutor's positive yet constructive feedback really boosted my confidence. Whereas before I thought, 'I don't think I'm good enough for this,' Lee helped me to develop an 'I can, I will' attitude and I was able to progress much faster than expected. In fact, I finished my diploma in just 7 months!

Finding different study methods that suited me, I made it work

Oxbridge study guide turn to a page on developing a study time table and finding time to study
Mark found a wealth of useful information in our comprehensive study guide - created with our home learning students in mind

When you're as busy as I am, you have to be disciplined, organised, and on the ball. Along with my course pack, Oxbridge sent out an all-inclusive study guide with loads of excellent tips and tricks to create a timetable. I followed a structure that involved getting up early to walk the dog before studying so my mind was clear, refreshed and prepared. Also, I made sure my study setting was free of distractions and always sat away from the TV, so I could make evenings a time for relaxation.

As I progressed, my interest in counselling only grew stronger. There was a topic on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) that got me thinking about my job and how victims of crime would benefit from CBT. However, I didn't expect it to affect me personally. I became reflective and pensive as I realised the power of therapy. During this time, I thought a lot about my life - its intensity.

I loved that I could plan my study timetable around my daughter and my active day job.

The course helped me to understand why I dealt with key events in my life in a particular way. I learned about societal expectations, approval, and the ego. As a result, I found out why I always pushed so hard to achieve high and meet goals. I realised all of the intensity from my younger years came from the pressure that I put on myself to live at a million miles an hour, or else I felt like a failure. With this new viewpoint, I let go of this pressure and became more empathetic with myself and others.

Developing the ability to listen - listen properly

I'm currently training for the London Marathon, and the mindset I apply to fitness is the same for my learning. I set long-term and bitesize goals, lowering the intensity and keeping me positive. For example, I aimed to complete my course within a year but gave myself six weeks to for each unit. Likewise, I initially broke my running into three sessions a week, steadily increasing how long I ran. Now, I'm running ten miles a day. More importantly, whenever I meet an obstacle, I simply adjust my plan instead of panicking.

I'd say the biggest skill I've developed studying with Oxbridge, though, is the ability to listen properly. In the past, I rarely gave people a chance to speak. When friends came to me for advice, I wanted to interrupt, so I did. However, I take a more thoughtful approach with my new counselling knowledge.

Studying with Oxbridge led to greater perspective and greater opportunities in Counselling

These days, I help people to answer their own questions by being someone they can bounce off. I've become a voice of reason or logic. In fact, it is surprising how impactful listening to others can be. I didn't expect it, but this course has broadened my relationships and completely changed my outlook on life.

Studying at Oxbridge led to my perspective

I think I've caught the learning bug! I'm going to continue studying with Oxbridge to complete my Level 4 in Counselling next and then specialise in Life Coaching or Mindfulness. That way, when I retire from the Police, I'll have the skills to work as a Counsellor or Life Coach. Better yet, I can make a real difference to my community.

I'm going to continue studying with Oxbridge to complete my Level 4 in Counselling

What's my main goal in life? My answer is different from what it once was. Before I did my Counselling course, I'd have said physical, financial, and material goals. But since learning Freud's ego theory, the ego part of myself is shrinking. In truth, things that were once important to me are no longer meaningful.

I look at my daughter and she is the happiest person I know. So, now I think what's important is to do what makes me happy and feels right, just like she does. I can honestly say this past year has transformed me on a deeper level than I ever expected. What's next? More learning. More of 'I can I will' and less procrastinating and more doing and less self-doubting. Eventually, more making a difference in people's lives, and, of course, way more living.